Editor’s note: Total FTE enrollments are up at several of our colleges (DSLCC, ESCC, GCC, NOVA) compared to last year at this time, but system-wide the numbers are down, continuing a trend that began in the 2012-13 academic year.
“This is not good news,” said Senior Vice Chancellor Sharon Morrissey, as she began her briefing for the VCCS State Board Sept. 17.
There had been plenty of speculation, but nobody really knew how the coronavirus pandemic would affect enrollments this fall. With most institutions of higher education, including Virginia’s Community Colleges, forced to operate mainly online and with severely limited options for face-to-face instruction, enrollments at community colleges nationwide fell between five and thirty percent.
Total student headcount at VCCS colleges dropped 9.65 percent in mid-September, compared to a similar time last year. Applying the full-time equivalent (FTE) formula that’s used to determine funding, and discounting dual enrollment students because Virginia’s K-12 systems were in the midst of their own COVID-19 turmoil, and the VCCS enrollment decline looks closer to 5.25 percent. Here’s a portion of the administration’s presentation to the board:
“In the midst of the economic turbulence and pandemic, it appears families were more concerned about paying bills and staying healthy than higher education,” said Dr. Morrissey.
Recognizing that many VCCS students come from lower-income families, Morrissey told board members our colleges are working overtime to help students overcome technology challenges to take courses online, including opening college libraries and computer labs, finding laptop computers for students, and extending wi-fi internet access in parking lots and other locations.
Looking back at the just-completed academic year (AY), board members were told that despite a 13 percent drop in enrollment, our colleges have maintained their graduation numbers over the past five years.
In AY 2020, more than 31,000 students earned degrees, diplomas and certificates at VCCS colleges. Almost all VCCS graduates are Virginia residents. Fifty-nine percent were women, and 43 percent were from minority groups. Among the minority graduates, there was a 22 percent increase in Asian students, a 20 percent increase in Latinx students, and a 13 percent drop in African-American students.
In addition, as colleges offer more stackable credential pathways, more VCCS students are studying for, and receiving, industry recognized credentials and licenses.
Better coaching and better guided pathways may be helping more students graduate on time at our colleges.
“We know we have work to do,” said VCCS Chancellor Glenn DuBois. “We do not exist in a vacuum, and many of the challenges and barriers that face our students exist in the world at large. We know we need to do more to help students succeed, and these numbers will help inform our strategic planning going forward.”